Legacies: Guide Dogs broadens its appeal

An advertising campaign across print and radio has proved profitable for the charity, as Susannah Birkwood finds out

Part of the Guide Dogs legacy campaign
Part of the Guide Dogs legacy campaign

Two out of every three guide dogs are funded by gifts in wills, but only half of all the people that make these bequests to Guide Dogs were known to the charity in their lifetimes. That is what prompted the charity to promote its legacy programme more widely than to its core supporter base in an "above the line" campaign that began in September 2013.

The campaign kicked off with a 40-second radio advert on Classic FM that ran for three weeks. There was also a picture story of a day in the life of a blind lady, Lynette, and her guide dog, Pippa, which ran for two weeks on 250 bus shelter panels across the north-west and south of England. This was backed up by a six-month media partnership with The Daily Telegraph – chosen, like Classic FM, because the majority of its audience was over 55 and middle class – that focused on the cases of Lynette and Pippa, and of James, a blind personal trainer.

"Having a six-month platform gave us a chance to properly educate and go into a bit more detail about what we do," says Clare Hellery, the charity's central legacy marketing manager.

As with any campaign relying on bequests, it's too soon to tell whether the £206,000 that Guide Dogs invested has been money well spent. But Hellery is convinced the campaign will be a success. Twenty-two people contacted the charity to say they were at least thinking about leaving gifts to Guide Dogs in their wills. Nearly 1,000 people saw the campaign on Facebook; the charity also captured the data of more than 2,500 people through the competitions it ran with the Telegraph.

"The response rates look tiny, but we would quantify this as a success," says Hellery. "Taking our average legacy values and the number of people who contacted us, it will be profitable.

"Where the campaign succeeded is with the storytelling and emotion. Of course, the channels are important and the investment is key; but if you don't have a really genuine, moving story, then you won't get the same levels of engagement."

Expert view

Stephen George Fundraising consultant and former chair of Remember A Charity

This campaign showcases the power of mixing different channels and techniques, blended with imaginative ways to tell stories and engage people. Using familiar themes and credible storytellers, the campaign focuses on the positive benefits of a legacy gift – life. The campaign educates and inspires legacy interest, from which conversation can turn into gifts. The choice of radio station targets the right age group. But sometimes, when working with a cold campaign, a bolder approach can pay better dividends, such as using TV or digital to reach a wider audience. The campaign doesn’t seem to include methods to engage existing supporters, which is something that all cold campaigns should deliver.

For a charity with a harder-to-market cause area, such as those focusing on disabled people or prisoners, the core message would need to be translated. Start with why, who you are and what you are about. Then find a credible storyteller, story and reason for your audience to talk about the campaign or quietly consider it. Remember that those who respond are just the tip of the iceberg – the more you reach, the more will quietly consider the idea but might not tell you. That’s the nature of gifts in wills, so have faith.

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